Every two to three years, Microsoft unleashes a new version of its venerable productivity suite, Microsoft Office, adding both features and bloat to what has always been a consistently excellent product. And on that note, Office 2000, which was released publicly in June 1999, is no different: It's a massive beast, eager to eat up as much hard drive space as you'll give it. But it's also a worthy and compelling upgrade to the previous version, Office 97, for certain users.

Should you upgrade?

For many people, this is a non-issue. Like Windows itself, the majority of Office sales come from new PC bundling. Those that get Office 2000 with a new machine can rejoice: They will certainly have the hardware muscle needed to best take advantage of the product. For users with older Windows 95 machines, the picture is a little less clear because Office 2000 requires a pretty hefty system. There's also a money issue: Is Office 2000 worth the $250 or so that it will cost most people to upgrade?

Over the course of this multi-part review, I'll attempt to answer these questions, which are made a bit more difficult by the shear number of ways you'll be able to get Office. Office 2000 is shipping in five distinct editions, including: 

Microsoft Office 2000 Standard Edition: Includes Word, Excel, Outlook, and PowerPoint.

Microsoft Office 2000 Small Business Edition: Includes Word, Excel, Outlook, Publisher, and Microsoft Office Small Business Tools.

Microsoft Office 2000 Professional Edition: Includes Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, Access, Publisher, and Microsoft Office Small Business Tools.

Microsoft Office 2000 Premium Edition: Includes Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, Access, FrontPage, Publisher, PhotoDraw (previously released), and Microsoft Office Small Business Tools.

Microsoft Office 2000 Developer Edition: Includes Office 2000 Premium Edition with tools and documentation for Office developers.

Basically, each of these editions builds on the previous edition, adding new features, programs, tools, and of course pricing. The edition you choose should be based on cost and the number of features you require.  Though this is a review of the Premium Edition, those interested in other editions will be happy to note that the review covers all of the programs in each of the Office 2000 editions except for Developer, which I found confusing and disjointed. Office developers know who they are and will be getting this edition regardless of my opinion.

New features in Office 2000
After the completion of Office 97, the Microsoft Office team met to discuss features for the next major revision. The team decided to contact its biggest customers and, in a unique change of pace for the company, actually find out what features they wanted. In typical Microsoft fashion, however, they also added a host of features no one was really asking for (at least directly) in an attempt to drive home the "Webification" of Microsoft's product lines. Office 2000, therefore, would embrace the Web like no other Office suite before it. And the results, as you might expect, are mixed.

Given this little bit of history, here are the three primary goals of Office 2000:

  1. Web integration
  2. Easily accessible data (including over the Web)
  3. Intelligent and personalized software

Any attempt at understanding Office 2000 must take into account these goals. I personally find it hard, if not impossible, to believe that anyone was asking for Web integration, for example, yet it's telling that this is the first item on Microsoft's list of goals. And they even snuck in a mention of the Web on the second goal, which probably was a customer request until that was added.

Looking over the list of new features in Office 2000, it's pretty easy to understand where some of these ideas came from. Others--like the nasty new Office 2000 Clipboard--are puzzling in their complexity. And the Web emphasis, well, it's just plain crazy. Microsoft's literature for Office 2000 reads "Web, Web, Web" and its hard to see anything else. Fortunately, there are plenty of new features for even the Web-disadvantaged. Let's take a look.

All of the Office 2000 applications feature new Open and Save dialogs (Figure 1 and Figure 2) which represent a significant improvement over the system Open and Save dialogs in Windows 9x. In fact, the Open and Save dialogs in Office 2000 are so good, they're going to be used in Windows 2000 too. But that's the problem: Office isn't the place to be adding new system features like this. And users of Windows 95 and 98 will be faced with two different sets of dialogs, those used by Office 2000 and those used by every other program. This feature should have been left for Windows 2000, so that users wouldn't need to deal with this confusion.

On the other hand, the dialogs are quite nice and easy to use. They feature far more in the way of file management than the older dialogs, with an Outlook bar of frequently-visited locations on the left and a full range of file system tools on the top (Go up one folder, Create new folder, and the like).

Overall, this feature is a mixed blessing: The dialogs are great but currently they are also 100% different from the common dialogs found on every Windows system on the planet.

The Office 2000 Clipboard (Figure 3) is easily the most controversial new feature that's been added to the suite in this release. Using the standard Windows Clipboard, users are able to copy or cut one item--be it text, graphics, whatever--into a special hidden "folder" so that this item might be later pasted elsewhere. This system has become quite natural over the years and most Windows users are probably pretty comfortable with it. Office 2000 adds a new Clipboard (that only works in some Office 2000 applications) that can store up to 12 items. And while it might seem like a good idea at first glance, the actual implementation of this feature leaves a lot to be desired.

The problem with the Office Clipboard is that it pops up a small windowed toolbar, right in the center of the screen. If you attempt to dock the toolbar with the other Office 2000 toolbars in the app you're using, it will simply pop back into the center of the screen the next time you use it. There is simply no way to configure the little bugger and it gets excruciatingly annoying after a few appearances. On the plus side, it will turn itself off if you close the toolbar window three times in a row. 

This particular feature should have been left to a later release or, more obviously, to a later version of Windows itself (perhaps 2000). I've discussed this with Office team members who were surprisingly forthcoming with the Clipboard's problems while sheepishly explaining that it was going to ship as-is, broken though it may be. It was suggested to me that a future version of this feature would indeed be integrated into Windows when they've fixed all the problems. I expect users to hate this feature and I recommend shutting it down immediately (using the three closes in a row) so that you never need to deal with it again. This feature should not have been included as-is in Office.

Another mixed-bag, depending on how you setup Office, the new suite features an Install on Demand feature that allows you to install a subset of the total suite and have the applications automatically install new features as you need them. It's a great idea for those of us doing a network install (and let's face it, Office is sold primarily to large corporations) but for us home users, it's going to be a pain because every time a new feature needs to be installed, you'll be prompted for the Office 2000 CD-ROM. Oh joy.

I guess the point here is that home users should be sure to install everything they need the first time, unless they plan on leaving the CD-ROM in the drive.

In a related note, Office 2000 applications are also self-repairing. This means that a corrupted or accidentally deleted WINWORD.EXE won't require a total reinstall. Office 2000 is smart enough to realize when files are missing or corrupted and will automatically replace them. Again, home users will be prompted for the CD-ROM, but corporate environments with network installations will have a seamless, self-repairing environment. 

For both of these features, home users are going to be somewhat in the lurch. They'll work, but you'll need to have your install CD handy. 

In a stunning bit of inconsistency, Microsoft has elected to change some--but not all--of its Office 2000 applications to a Single Document Interface (SDI), where every document is contained in its own parent window (Figure 4). In earlier versions of Office, documents were all contained within a single parent window. This type of window is called Multiple Document Interface (MDI) because a single window contains multiple documents.

So what's the big deal? Certainly, SDI is easier. If you're working with two Word documents, for example, they will both show up individually in the Windows taskbar and you can ALT+TAB between them; this is far easier than groping for the Window menu with the mouse pointer, as you had to do in Office 97. But the feature was inconsistently implemented as many Office 2000 applications--like FrontPage--do not feature an SDI interface, but still rely on the old MDI style of window.

I guess I have to say I love this feature because I use Word every day and I often have multiple documents open. But I wish they had made its use more consistent across the Office apps.

In another grand attempt to bypass the operating system, the Office team has added personalized menus and toolbars to Office 2000. This feature, which will become a standard part of the operating system with Windows 2000, is bound to be a love/hate issue for people: Some will be overjoyed with the feature while others will loathe it. My only problem with it is that this feature should have been added to Windows, not Office.

In any event, the menus and toolbars are configurable and if you're dead-set against them, you can turn them off. By default, most (but not all, go figure) Office applications place both toolbars on the same horizontal plane (Figure 7) so that they take up less space. But unless you are running Windows at 1600x1200 (all two of you raise your hands), this means that you won't see all of the toolbar buttons at once. You can still get the hidden buttons using a small drop-down menu, but this is rather bogus.

As for the menus, less-often used choices are hidden (Figure 5) unless you hover over a menu for a few seconds or click the chevrons found at the bottom of each menu (Figure 6). The chevrons, which resembles a double down-arrow, toggle the menus between the standard view and the full view, which will show you all of the options.

Overall, this is  a good idea and it
s done right. I just think that certain people are going to hate it.

Despite the fact that I placed this single feature near the bottom of the list, Microsoft touts its various Internet integration features prominently at the top of its own list. While some of the Web integration features are certainly impressive, few of them will have any use outside of Intranets in all-Microsoft shops as they rely heavily on Internet Explorer 5.0. For example, in Office 2000, you can take advantage of a new "
Save as HTML" ("Universal viewing" and Web round-tripping) feature, that will save most (but not all, once again) Office documents to the Web, and allow you to later edit them from an Office application without any loss of quality. That's actually kind of cool and the six people that use this feature will love it.

Other Internet integration features such as Web Themes, Web discussions, and the like leave me cold. I can't imagine that many people have much use for this drivel, but you're welcome to visit Microsoft's Web site for more information if you think it's compelling. I think it's a waste of time. 

Office email, however, is an excellent new feature (Figure 8) that many users will be able to take advantage of. Email capabilities have been integrated into most (but not every, once again) Office 2000 application so that you can easily send Office documents via email. 

Aside from Office email, the new Web integration features are nothing special for typical Office users. And if it sounds like I'm deliberately ignoring these features, you're right: Microsoft too often pushes their own goals ahead of the needs of its customers. This is an obvious example.

Office 2000 Help is a close second to "Collect and Paste" on the annoyance scale
. When you initiate a Help window now, it resizes your Office application so that the two windows occupy the entire screen, with the Help window squeezing in on the right and that annoying little Office Assistant (assuming you haven't throttled the thing) flying up to the top of the screen (Figure 9). Though I hate this approach, I understand why they did it: The Office team is attempting to allow people to read Help and following along as they work in their document at the same time, without the need to switch back and forth between the windows. But God, it's awful. I find myself almost screaming at the monitor in frustration as I try to get Help to act like a normal window. 

And that little Office Assistant (Figure 10). What can I say?  I hate it. And I suspect that most other people will hate it too. The good news is that you can actually disable it cleanly now (unlike in Office 97) by simply unchecking a single choice in its Option dialog. Ah, progress. But the bad new is that, if you actually like these things, they're not in every Office application (!), but are rather only in the "main" apps (Word, Excel, and the like). You gotta give Microsoft credit: They're consistently inconsistent.


Installing Office 2000
Installing Office 2000 is, as you might expect of a program this big, a bit of a chore. The Windows Installer-based installation program steps you through the setup process rather cleanly until and unless you choose a custom setup, which is recommended. At this point, things start to get ugly.

But first things first.

When you insert the first Office 2000 CD-ROM, the Windows Installer kick-starts to life (Figure 1) and examines your system. A few seconds later, the Installation Wizard (Figure 2) begins, providing you with relatively easy step-by-step instructions. In the first step, you enter your name, initials, organization, and a massive 25-character CD-Key (Figure 3). 

In the second portion of the Wizard, you are asked to accept the End-User License Agreement (EULA, Figure 4). I could very well be the only person outside of Microsoft that actually reads this. It's not that exciting.

Part three is the most important part. You are given two choices in this dialog (Figure 5), though the choices will vary depending on your configuration. If you have an earlier version of Office, you will be able to choose between "Upgrade Now" and "Customize." The upgrade option replaces the earlier version of Office with the new version and it provides you with Microsoft's "typical" installation of Office 2000. The custom install will allow you to run Office 2000 concurrently with previous Office apps if desired (not recommended, if only for the wasted hard drive space) and allow you to specify which components to install. If you're installing Office 2000 on a system with no previous version of Office, you'll be given "Typical install" and "Customize" options where typical also provides you with Microsoft's idea of a typical installation. In either scenario, I recommend the custom install.

When you choose the Customize option, you are presented with the Installation Location phase (Figure 6), where you can determine which drive and folder that Office will be installed to. This is a handy dialog, with a nice graphical representation of the remaining space in each partition.

If you are installing Office 2000 on a system that does have a previous version Office installed, the next dialog will ask you which Office applications, if any, should be overwritten by the new version. This lets you pick and choose, for whatever reason, which older apps are removed and which aren't. Honestly, there's no good reason to do this. 

Finally, you arrive at the meat of the Installation Wizard, the Selecting Features phase (Figure 7).  Users of Plus! 98 will be familiar with this style of installation. Each component of Office is represented by a node on the installation tree. You can right-click each node and choose from a list of choices (Figure 8) that will affect all options contained by that node. Also, you can expand and contract levels of the tree as needed (Figure 9) to completely customize your Office install.

It's a bear. And yet, it's also a good thing: I mean, we want this level of control, don't we?  I think so, but then I also think that the architects of Office didn't go far enough. Ever since the release of Office 97, I've been calling for a truly componentized version of Office where you could literally pick and choose the components you'd like to install. And at first glance, it looks like they've granted my every wish. I mean, doesn't this qualify as a stunning response to my own complaints?

No.

Here's why: In a truly componentized version of Outlook 2000, for example, the components I could pick and choose between would be the very components in Outlook: Email, Calendar, Contacts, Tasks, and Notes. So I should be able to install a version of Outlook with only Email and Calendar, if I wanted to. But I can't. Because Office isn't truly componentized, it's simply the same huge, monolithic application it's always been, with a slew of add-ons and optional features. That's not the same thing and it's a major disappointment that three years of development haven't given us a more componentized suite.

OK, so you probably think I hate the new setup, but I don't: It's no better or worse than the old way of picking and choosing which options to install. It's just different. But on a positive note, it does conform to Microsoft's new installation guidelines, so we're probably going to see a lot of other apps use this type of install as well. Just don't be fooled into believing that there have been any major architectural changes to Office. There's aren't any.
 And most people will be positively bewildered by all of the options. It's just a huge set of programs.

Once you're done playing with the options to install (and granted, this could take a long, long time), The Office installer will configure for the options you've chosen (Figure 10) and physically install the proper files on your hard drive (Figure 11). No reboot is necessary. For some reason, the act of copying the files take a long time, even on very fast SCSI III-based systems.

Another side note: The first Office 2000 CD-ROM only installs the "main" Office applications: Word, Excel, Access, PowerPoint, FrontPage, and Outlook. If you want to install PhotoDraw or Publisher, those installs are separate and available from different CD-ROMs. I think it's cheap that Microsoft provided no way to do this from a single installation point.

As always, Office defies logic and spews icons all over your Start menu, rather than creating its own Program group like every other application on the planet. This little bit of arrogance--especially in the face of repeated complaints from customers--is hard to take and, frankly, I'm sick of it. Like many people, one of the first things I do when I install Office is move all of its icons into a single "Microsoft Office" group. Why the company couldn't have done this automatically is beyond me.

Anyway, Microsoft adds two icons, "New Office Document" and "Open Office Document," to the top of the Start menu. I delete this immediately and have yet to meet anyone that uses these. It then spews the icons for Word, Excel, Outlook, Access, FrontPage and PowerPoint into the Programs group along with a new group called Office Tools. Hey thanks!

The first time you run any Office application, you will be presented by an offer to register the product. If you have an Internet connection, I recommend that you do so: Unlike the dubious behavior of the online registration programs in Office 97 and 2000, this one won't be sending any hidden information to Microsoft. And registering the product electronically is the best way to ensure that you won't be asked to register again later.


Microsoft Access 2000
Microsoft Access 2000 (Figure 1) is a personal database management system and while it established itself as the product to beat long ago, this new revision does offer a couple of compelling new features. Unfortunately, this is also the sole Office 2000 application to change its document format so heavy users of Access are going to want to think twice before upgrading: Access 2000 will attempt to convert existing databases to Access 2000 format; if you don't allow this, the databases will open in read-only format (Figure 2).

The goals for Access 2000 included a more user-friendly interface and consistency with other Office 2000 applications. Unfortunately, Access remains an anachronism in this release, offering only a partial similarity with other Office apps. And because Access 2000 adopts the new "Single Document Interface (SDI)" existing Access users will be confused by the windows that proliferate all over the taskbar as your using it.

If you're familiar with Access, you know that you spend a lot of time in the Database window, the "hub" of Access (Figure 3). This window has been significantly updated in this release, with an Outlook Bar-based user interface, variable view list box, and the ability to create custom Outlook Bar groups. Frankly, I'm not sure that the Outlook Bar creates any particular "consistency" with other Office apps, but it doesn't matter: The new Database window is a winner. 

The Outlook Bar is divided into two sections by default, Objects and Groups. The Objects section deals with the Access objects we all know and love, such as Tables, Queries, Forms, and the like, as well as a few newcomers such as [Data Access] Pages. The Groups section provides quick access to locations on your hard drive, such as Favorites (Figure 4). You can add custom locations if desired.

Using the new list box view styles, you can view objects in the same way you do with files in My Computer: Large Icons, Small Icons, List, and Details (Figure 5).

Working with database objects in Access 2000 is very similar to previous releases with a few changes. For example, when you open or design a table, the window opens "outside" of the Access IDE, spawning a new taskbar button. This allows you to ALT+TAB between open Access windows, which is confusing at first, but nice when you're used to it. Of course, users that have a lot of windows open might find this unappealing, but I think it was a decent change (Figure 6)

A new Internet feature in Access 2000, Data Access Pages (Figure 7) allows users to bind data from Access into Web pages that can be viewed over the Internet or mailed to other users on a network. Microsoft is really pushing the Web capabilities in Access and while my first reaction to this feature is one of dismissal, it's possible that Data Access Pages--when combined with Access 2000's native SQL Server 7.0 integration (see below)--may have some merit. However, I question the technical brightness of anyone that places live Access data on a public Web site. Access, unlike SQL Server isn't designed to handle more than 10 users at a time and Web sites based on this database will quickly stall under
the weight of its users.

However, Data Access Pages is still interesting. In addition to the static views of data we've come to expect on the Web, Data Access Pages allows users to edit data (if desired) over the Web, which is pretty powerful, especially when it's automated as it is here. Web developers that use SQL Server on the back-end are going to want to give this feature a look, especially since the SQL Server Web Publishing Wizard is so limited and the only other alternative is hand-coding Active Server Pages.

Unlike the partial support for SQL Server databases found in Access 97, Access 2000 can now work as a full-featured front-end for SQL Server. This means that you can leverage the awesome graphical tools in Access to create and work with  more powerful and scalable SQL Server databases (Figure 8), literally a "best of both worlds" scenario.

Access 2000 can connect to remote SQL Server databases (Figure 9) anywhere on the Web or, alternatively, to a SQL Server database on your local machine. Office 2000 even ships with an engine-only version of SQL Server so that you can move to the more powerful SQL Server as quickly as possible. Using this special free version of SQL Server, you can create and work with SQL Server databases without even needing to buy SQL Server.

SQL Server 6.5 and 7.0 users should order Access 2000 as soon as possible: The visual tools in Access 2000 blow away anything you get with SQL Server or Visual Studio (Figure 10). This is the ultimate way to work with SQL Server databases.


Microsoft Excel 2000
Microsoft Excel 2000 (Figure 1) is a personal spreadsheet application that left any competition, such as Lotus 1-2-3, in its wake long ago. First released as a leading-edge program from Apple's then-new Macintosh, Excel was also the first program ported to Microsoft's then-fledgling Windows in the mid-1980's. As such, Excel has influenced the design of other Office applications, including Microsoft Word, which were required to fall into line with the Excel juggernaut.

For Office 2000, Microsoft has updated the already-excellent Excel modestly, eschewing the odd Single Document Interface (SDI) used by many of the other Office applications. This, frankly is another bit of inconsistent weirdism: How come every worksheet in Excel doesn't get its own taskbar icon? (Figure 2).

Unlike Access, the look and feel of Excel 2000 is virtually identical to its predecessor (Figure 3). A host of small features have been added, such as support for the Euro, "see-through-view" (which retains the color of selected text rather than using the more typical inverse colors), improvements in the number of supported cell characters (now 32,000, up from 255 characters in Excel 97), and the number of supported rows per worksheet (65,536, up from 16,384). Queries now run as a background task, freeing up Excel for the user.

Some concessions to modern programming have been made as well: In addition to the Unicode and mutlilanguage support added to all Office applications, Excel now supports a four digit date format in addition to its previous methods of handling dates, a nod to Y2K issues. 

Microsoft has also added a capability called List AutoFill that automatically copies formatting and formulas over an entire list. Again, nice but not earth-shattering.

In Excel 97, Microsoft introduced a new, and still barely understood, feature called PivotTables, which
allows you to quickly summarize large amounts of data. Rows and columns can be rotated to see different summaries based on the same source data, and data can be filtered for more specific results. In Excel 2000, this feature has been updated with a host of new features, such as PivotTable AutoFormat and PivotChart Reports, which allows you to create interact reports which can dynamic show and hide specified chart items when accessed by a user.

In short, Excel 2000 is a fine product, but it was excellent to begin with and there's precious little need to upgrade Office solely for this product: The improvements in this edition are minimal.


Microsoft FrontPage 2000
With FrontPage 2000, Microsoft has finally created a visual Web site development tool that I can call my own. And you have no idea what a huge turnaround this is for me: I hated FrontPage 98.  With a vengeance.

Flashback to late 1997: FrontPage 98 was then still in beta (and yet to be added, officially, to the Office suite: it was simply a member of the "Office family"). The product was turning out to be a lukewarm refresh of FrontPage 97, itself a sad little half-breed that was still making the transition from its small developer roots into a full-fledged piece of Microsoft bloatware. Numerous things needed to be changed to make FrontPage 98 worthwhile and I add a full list: "Don't let it mess with my code," I complained. "Make it truly visual, like Visual Basic," I begged. "Make it act more like Office applications," I suggested.

No, said Microsoft. In fact, I soon found out, the feature-set for FrontPage 98 had been frozen (that is decided, and set in stone) before the beta test even began. The technical beta testers, as it turned out, were there simply to find bugs. I was literally told exactly this, in response to my complaints.

I quit the beta. Immediately.  And FrontPage 98 went on to become one of the best-selling pieces of software Microsoft ever created. It was the number one selling Web development package in the world, outselling its nearest competition nearly 2-to-1. 

And it was an utter piece of crap. 

It was, perhaps obviously, with some unwillingness that I approached FrontPage 2000. And it is now, with some amazement, that I must tell you that this product is incredible. A piece of art. A tour d' force.

I use it every day.

No, I'm not kidding. FrontPage 2000 (Figure 1) is a complete re-thinking of the FrontPage product. Gone are the bizarre and separate Explorer and Edit windows, replaced by a simple single window that vaguely resembles Microsoft Word with an Explorer bar attached on the left. FrontPage 2000 will let you hand-code HTML and then actually preserve the formatting and style of that code (can I hear a "Halleluiah"?), unlike its predecessor. You can even train it to write its own code in your style. It's almost too good to be true.

Creating tables is a breeze (Figure 2), formatting documents almost effortless. I've been a Visual InterDev devotee since late 1996 when it was still known as Internet Studio, but I've turned to FrontPage 2000 for virtually all of my Web sites now, including this very one. It's that good: The only time I start up InterDev is when I've got some serious database interactivity to work on. For everything else, especially static HTML, FrontPage 2000 wins hands down. And the integrated spell checking is wonderful, life-saving even (though the omission of grammar checking is both puzzling and retarded). 

Adding features such as forms, Java or ActiveX components, Office documents, and the like is all automated with Wizards and easy to use dialogs. Formatting objects works just like similar actions in other Office products, and using the Word-like tools for text is simple and obvious. FrontPage 2000 also offers nice Web site management tools, a tasks tool I never use, and a host of other niceties that make it a complete, one-stop tool for Web developers that don't need NT-based database access. For that sole exception, I'd pick Visual InterDev over FrontPage any day.

Alas, nothing is perfect: FrontPage 2000 has plenty of room for improvement, the most obvious being that it bears absolutely no resemblance to the other applications in Office 2000: An Office 97-like double toolbar adorns the top of the FrontPage window and documents are loaded in the older MDI style, rather than in the new SDI style. Furthermore, FrontPage 2000 even messes with the MDI style by offering its own type of child window with a peculiar status bar on the top with no ability to minimize or restore (Figure 3). Strange.

And because FrontPage is designed to manage, as well as work with, a collection of documents (the so-called "Web" in Microsoft-speak; the rest of the planet refers to this collection as a "Web site"), the Folder List and Views Bar are jarring add-ons which reduce its resemblance to other Office applications. Granted, this is by necessity, but one can't help but think that there must have been a better way.

Another oddity: FrontPage defaults to browser-inherited values for page backgrounds and text colors (Figure 4). I want the background of my Web documents to be colored white generally and if I don't specify this explicitly on a page by page basis (Figure 5), the background will appear gray in older browsers. There is a workaround to this, of course: FrontPage allows you to create your own document templates, a cool feature. I wish I had known about this problem, however, before I created my templates: By the time I figured out what happened, I had created over 100 documents with no explicit background color setting. There should also be a way to set this kind of thing globally, but the settings in Tools-->Options are surprisingly limited.

Speaking of which: FrontPage doesn't remember your settings at all. Once I close the program, my location in the Web at the time of closing is lost. Every time I restart the program and create a new hyperlink, add a new image, or whatever, I have to manually tab through the Folder List to find my place. It's annoying and unnecessary.

I'd also like to be able to set it up to always specify the width and height of any image I add to a page. Manually setting this via a property sheet is tedious.

Despite its problems, however, FrontPage 2000 is best of class. And like I said, I use it every day.  I can't think of a higher compliment than that.


Microsoft Outlook 2000
Outlook releases are starting to trend like STAR TREK movies: The odd numbered ones suck. And in this case, Outlook 2000 (nee Outlook 9.0) has arrived on the raw end of the stick with a release that is decidedly unusable for Internet email. After the resounding success of Outlook 98 (see my review), I find this confusing and disappointing.

When you first install Outlook 2000 (Figure 1), it places one of those weird, special Shell icons right on your desktop (Figure 2). Now, most people will probably want this there, but why isn't it a normal shortcut icon? But the weirdisms don't stop there: The very first dialog in the Outlook 2000 setup routine asks you which email account, if any, you'd like to import from (Figure 3). Then, in the next step, you have the option to choose the type of email support you'd like: Internet only, Corporate (Exchange Server based), or no email (Figure 4). If "no email" is a choice, why would you import email from another program first? Duh.

Even the "Internet Email" option is deceptive: If you choose it, for example, you'll lose the ability to send and receive faxes from Outlook 2000. Thankfully, there is a warning to this effect. But I can't for the life of me understand why "Internet Email and Fax" isn't a possibility.

After blundering your way through the initial choices, you setup your mail account. In my case, I did choose Internet mail, so I received dialogs very similar to the ones you'd see in Outlook Express: I've always found this type of setup very straightforward aside from the password fiasco where you enter your password in the Wizard, have the Microsoft email application (in this case Outlook) launch, and the watch it download your mail when you intended to leave the mail on the server: This feature can only be set after the program launches. The workaround is to not enter your password in the Wizard, but anyone that wanted to leave mail on the server has been burned at least once by this omission. It's an obvious bug and I'm surprised it made it into this revision (but then, I was also surprised to see it in Outlook Express 5.0).

In any case, once you've got Outlook configured, the little beast loads, not full-screen like the rest of Office, but in a floating window that isn't even wide enough to contain its sample email message (Figure 1 again). From here, it's almost all downhill.

You'd expect Outlook 2000 to be the ultimate email client and personal information manager. After all, it's the follow-up to the excellent Outlook 98. What could have gone wrong? For starters, Outlook tries to be too much for too many people. It's an Email program, it's a PIM, it's a file manager, hell, it's a Web browser too (what isn't these days?). The inclusion of the IE Favorites menu should be telling: Who wouldn't want to access Web sites from directly within Outlook? (Figure 5) Well, me, actually.  Who wouldn't want to browse their local file system from Outlook?  Take a guess, I dare you.

I suspect there may be a small subset of people out there that like the all-in-one approach, but I'd prefer a single app that did one thing right. Outlook, however, does few things correctly.   But maybe I'm a little jaded: Most of Outlook's improvements aren't related to Internet email at all. For example, you can now view Web pages in Exchange public folders... you know, from Outlook. Calendar scheduling has been improved dramatically. And... that's about it.

As for Email, Microsoft has added a new Rules Wizard, which is admittedly pretty nice (Figure 6). It was even better until a court ruled that Microsoft's Rules Wizard was unfairly filtering out mail from a small (and seemingly lame) online greeting card company, forcing Microsoft to remove key features at the last minute. And Outlook is less brutal about using Microsoft Word as an email editor than it was in the previous version. Instead of practically demanding that you use Word, its just an option. 

So why do I hate Outlook so?  For starters, the Options dialog is a disaster, full of confusing options and command buttons that open dialog after dialog (Figure 7). Looking for options related to email?  Try the following:

  • Emails options on the Preferences tab.
  • Advanced Email options on the Email options dialog.
  • Mail Delivery tab.
  • Accounts dialog from either Tools-->Accounts or Mail Delivery tab-->Accounts.
  • Mail Format tab.
  • Message Format Settings dialog from Message Settings tab.
  • International Options dialog from Message Settings tab.
  • Fonts dialog for setting fonts... and stationary?
  • Signature picker for creating mail signatures.

So, quick: I want to use Plain Text formatting for all messages I send and receive, but I want those messages to appear in 10 point Verdana inside of Outlook. Where do I set this?  Can I even set this? Here's a "sort of" answer: You can set outgoing message font properties by point size, but incoming messages can only be set using a lame "medium--smaller-smallest" style of sizing. Love that consistency, Microsoft.

Let's assume you're able to grok all of these confusing options and actually setup Outlook exactly the way you want it. Then what?  Is it any good then?  No: Outlook 2000 is hampered by all kinds of deficiencies, including a complete lack of features that I use and love in Outlook Express, Outlook's kid brother, which comes free with Internet Explorer 5.0. For example, let's say I want to send an email to Larry McJunkin. I've got Larry setup in my address book with a nickname of larry, so it's easy to type. In Outlook Express, I simply type the letter l (that's a lowercase "L") in the To: line of  a new message and Larry's name auto-completes for me (Figure 8). What a great feature.  Too bad it's a pipe dream in Outlook: In Microsoft's flagship product, I have to type out the entire nickname, with no auto-complete (Figure 9) at all: In fact, only when I send the message will I know whether what I typed in the To: field actually equates to a name in my address book. Can you say "brain-dead"?

Outlook is also a resource disaster, requiring more RAM and processing power than just about any other Office application. And since this is the type of thing you'd leave running constantly, that can be a real issue for anyone without the latest and greatest hardware.

I could go on, but what's the point: I hate Outlook 2000. You may feel differently, however, especially if you're more enamored of the PIM features. So my final recommendation is to check it out, with reservations. For me personally, I prefer Outlook Express 5.0 for email: It's smaller, faster, and actually has more features.

  Screenshots

The new File Open dialog.



The new Save dialog.



You'll love it, you'll hate it. You'll just hate it. Collect and Paste, ladies and gentlemen.



Word and some of the other Office applications now sport a nifty new SDI interface: Every document gets its own window!



Personalized menus before and...



... after you expand the options by clicking the chevron.



The Personalized toolbars attempt to save real estate by showing only the most common options.



Email integration means you can send Office applications without having to open your email program.



The somewhat dubious Help system in action. Please make it stop.



Clippit, the default Office Assistant.



First, the Windows Installer kicks in and prepares the system.



Please wait...



Name, initials, and CD key...



The ever-present license agreement.



Pick your poison (Hint: Don't ever choose the typical install).



Choose a partition, any parition.



It may seem confusing at first...



... but the new Windows Installer-based Setup is nice once you get the hang of it.



Expand choices in the tree to see sub-components.



Please wait...



Please wait...



Access 2000 in all it's glory.



If you choose not to convert earlier Access databases, you'll only be able to view the data, not modify it.



The Database window is the "hub" of Access and it's been improved dramatically.



New groups in the Database window allow you to move quickly to locations on your hard drive.



The Database window now supports the standard range of list box view styles.



Every time you open a new window in Access, a button appears on the Windows taskbar.



Data Access Pages: To go where no Access database has gone before.



You can now create and manage SQL Server databases with Access 2000.



Connecting to a remote SQL Server database is a snap.



If you're a SQL Server user, you'll love the graphical tools in Access.



Excel 2000 builds on the excellent base of Excel 97.



Worksheets in Excel 2000 do not take advantage of the Office 2000 SDI interface.



Look familiar?  Aside from the new shading style, the look and feel of Excel 2000 is very familiar.



FrontPage 2000 is one of the best reasons for upgrading to Office 2000 Premium.



Tables are a snap: Draw them graphically or use a Wizard.



Microsoft reinvents the wheel, again: This odd document window has no reason to live. At all.



Careful with the defaults: If you don't set it properly, your documents might not always have white backgrounds on certain browsers.



Ah, much better: By explicitly setting the background color, we can ensure that users see what we want them to see.



It's the belly of the beast: Outlook 2000 is the weakest component in Office.



We hope you like that Outlook icon, because no one asked for permission to put it there.



Outlook allows you to import email from other programs...



...before you even tell it whether you're going to use email at all.



It's a desert topping, it's a floor wax. Outlook tries to be too much.



The Rules Wizard in Outlook is one of its best features.



A confusing array of dialogs must be navigated to setup Internet Email. Good luck!



Outlook Express does email right, auto-completing recipients in the To: line...



... Outlook, however, has learned nothing from its younger sibling.